After two successful platforms have been taken over by the demon prince Laharl; his focus shifts to conquering the Nintendo's handheld platform. The plan is simple, release a DS version of Disgaea and one-by-one all gamers who try out the port of a port will be turned into hopeless gaming zombies. NIS America turns another trick by brings the highly addictive Disgaea to the Nintendo DS, and like they say, third times a charm.
I would have to think I am more than qualified to review Disgaea DS because I am an self-aware addict. I have successfully cleared Disgaea on the PS2 a number of times and have also racked up over 120hrs on the PSP version of the game. Now with Disgaea’s return on a third platform, you would think I would be a little dulled out by all the prodding Prinnies, scheming Angels, and Netherworld demons. The truth is I couldn’t be looking forward to any other game as much as Disgaea DS. Being an addict, I love all variations of Disgaea, however once this drug was placed in my hand, I wasn’t as sold as I thought I would be.
The decision to bring this cult game to camp Nintendo is a welcomed idea for gamers who haven’t had the pleasure of playing a Disgaea game in the past, or who prefer to play games with the dual screened portable system. Disgaea DS is actually ported from the Playstation Portable version of the original, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. Since Disgaea's release in 2003 the unlikely turned-based strategy RPG has hit a uncanny cult status which has spawned two ports of the first game along with two sequels, and even an anime release. With all this product on the market you would think fans would have had enough Disgaea for a while, surprisingly it is the total opposite. As Disgaea continues to roll on I think we have seen the last version of Hour of Darkness for a while. Well, until they decide to add Disgaea as a virtual download. So if you haven't been sold on Disgaea just yet, here is one last chance.
** (if you have played Disgaea in the past you can skip this section - see "What is new on the DS")
New to Disgaea?
For all those who don’t know anything about Disgaea, it is a tactical role-playing game that places the player in control of a wide assortment of characters that do battle on grid based squares. These battles take form in a turn-based structure and work on a limit amount of moves per term. The winner of the battle is the one who kills the entire enemy or reaches a certain objective like a dimensional gate in the item world. For a quick reference most people reference Finial Fantasy Tactics, and while FFT has a lot in common with Disgaea they are two totally different games.
The world of Disgaea is divided up between human characters and monsters (demons). Each faction and character in the faction is playable in the game with their own unique abilities and talents. All the characters in Disgaea are totally customizable in how you equip, create and use them. The amounts of variations that you could conjure up are limitless which a large part of Disgaea’s appeal is. You can basically create and mould an entire army in any direction possible within the game; no favourites are given besides the main cast of characters.
Getting deeper into customization you can also jump inside of weapons and build their levels by entering the item world. The item world are randomly generated levels based on the weapon you are entering. Each level accelerates giving the gamer chance to snag up some great loot and boost the items properties at the same time. Characters can also be transmigrated. What this does is regenerates the unit giving them a bonus to distribute to their points. This starts the character back at level one, although with a stronger base to approve upon. Both the item world and transmigrating are two techniques that make Disgaea stand out compared other tactical role-playing games.
Geo Panels are also worth mentioning as they are an important part of Disgaea. Geo panels little triangle items that hold a certain property like health regeneration, boosting attack power or silencing magic users. Whichever square the Geo Panel is on, all the squares of the same colour will hold share the effect of the Geo Panel. This offers up a crazy mishmash of randomness that keeps Disgaea interesting when you jump into the item world, or exploring the main story for the first time. Geo Panels can be moved and destroyed which can make for some interesting combinations or chain reactions dealing damage across a map. It’s a little hard to explain the Geo Panels in words, it's one of those aspects that are better experienced.
All this action takes place in a main hub called inside of Laharl’s Castle. In the castle you can hop around a take on main mission via chapters in a dimensional gate. You can also enter the item world, heal your party, shop at the Rosen Queen Store, or enter the voting democracy of the Dark Assembly. Before I get to the main plot of Disgaea, I'd better touch of the Dark Assembly. The Dark Assembly is a place inside the castle where you can make new proposals that effect the in-game action, like boosting the skills of your character, opening a bonus area in the game, or adding effects to your next round of action. When picking a bill to pass you then face a jury of demons who will vote on passing or declining your bill. If you bill passes you’re good to go, although if you’re facing a declined motion you can battle against the judges who voted against you, or try and bribe your way into winning the bill. The Dark assembly is also the place where you create new characters and transmigrate them. Passing bills and finding all the secrets the Dark Assembly holds in another addictive aspect of Disgaea’s already deep gameplay mechanics and customizable features.
The story starts here.. wake up young Prince.
Laharl is the main character, a young demon prince who is awakened by a long sleep to find out his father has passed away giving him the title of Overlord. Laharl who is a ruthless who wants to rule his netherworld with a strong unforgiving fist of power is slowly turned into more “human” feelings when he meets an Angel trainee named Flonne. A blooming romance fills the air as Flonne helps Laharl become more then in touch with his "human" feelings. Beyond Laharl and Flonne the story involves a lot of flamboyant characters that are richly developed and full of life. Looking past the demons and angels, Earthlings also come into the mix in the form of three heroic figures from planet Earth. I won't spoil anymore details for all those who haven't played Disgaea yet. On the surface Disgaea looks like it might be a throw-a-way typical Japanese game plot; however it actually develops into a nicely interwoven tale that balances romance, humour, relationships and death. Disgaea is a heavy-hitter and a comical masterpiece that found a unique blending of comedy thrown into deeper subject matter. Disgaea can appeal to any age of gamer and is a great story for players to enjoy.
What is new on the DS
Now that the basics have been covered, why would you want to buy the DS version if you already own the PSP, or the PS2 version. The answer to this question is the bonus content, use of two screens and the DS’s touch capabilities. The bonus content isn’t too much of leap from the PSP version, however there is enough content that would make a good offering to PS2 owners. Continued from the PSP edition, Disgaea DS offers a number of additional characters like Adel the main character from Disgaea 2 and Zetta from the Nippon Ichi game Makai Kingdom. The DS gets one more bonus with designer Takehito Harada's signature character Pleniair. Pleniair has been a reappearing character in the Disgaea series and one character that might even make die-hard Disgaea fans pick up the DS version, even if they own the other editions of the game.
The next new feature is the pop-up display as its called in Disgaea DS. The use of an extra screen is really quite useful for displaying information. The action is kept in the bottom screen which is touch enabled and the top screen displays extra information. In battle the top screen is used to show a top down grid of the action allow you to get a better vantage on the placement of units during battles. This isn’t too important through the story mode, but when you going deep into the item dungeon looking to reach the end, this comes in handy with randomly generated levels. Outside of battle the pop-up screen will display character statistics that help display more information for easier mico-management between all of your units. I was surprised how much I loved this feature and missed it when I loaded Disgaea back on my PSP.
The stylus is a minimal tool in Disgaea DS that is used to move around the characters on the screen. This sounds cool in theory, but realistically it is something you will avoid. The controls are not really quick enough to make it practical. If they would have streamlined the controls via double taps and quick picks then it would have been something to investigate. Basically you can do everything you want to do faster with the D-pad and face buttons. Some users might prefer the stylus; however Disgaea DS doesn’t fully take advantage of the power of the touch screen.
The last feature that is unique to the DS version of Disgaea is Prinny Commentary. Prinny commentary works after you complete the game once and turn it on in the menu. When the commentary is on, a Prinny will make comments throughout the games story on the top screen. The comments are what you’d expect out of a sarcastic Prinny that can help motivate gamers to give Disgaea a second play. This features isn’t a deal maker, but it is another twist that will keep you in the action when you start up a new game +. As you can see, NIS America had a few tricks up their sleeve when porting Disgaea for the second time. Hopefully it is enough convince gamers to purchase one more version of Disgaea.
Multiplayer and Etna's staring role
Multiplayer has also made a return from its debut on the PSP. The DS multiplayer isn’t Wi-Fi supported, so you’ll have to sit down with friends for this one. The only real chance here is that the DS supports Demon Gadgets which are random items that randomly appear on a level that give bonus to the player. Etna Mode is also ported from the PSP which is an obtainable after finishing the main quest. Etna mode follows Etna through a slimed down version of the game focusing on a selective part of the storyline. It’s an alternative, what if deal that is actually a lot of fun after you beat the main quest. Just be sure to level up Etna a fair amount because she will be leading the pack without a lot of the supporting characters including Laharl.
The dark side of the DS
Disgaea DS isn’t all positives, like you might have expected the graphics and sound take a hit in its porting to the Nintendo DS. The graphics take a major kick back when compared to the high-resolution screen on the PSP, or the PS2. The DS simply can’t compete and where this is most noticeable is in the animations which can cause the framerate to bog down. To compensate in most of the later animations you will see the world disappear to only have a black background and the characters involved in the move. This helps a little, but Disgaea DS still has trouble running all of the vicious battle animations and even the smaller things like in-game menus. The graphics in a whole are also chopped down in quality although it’s not so bad that Disgaea DS is unbearable to look at. Actually compared other Nintendo DS cartridges with this art style Disgaea DS is on top of its game.
The sound also takes a hit with the voice-overs being canned and the quality of the backing soundtrack being compromised. The extent of voice work in Disgaea is in the form of one liners that the characters shout out before the do an attack in battle. This means you’ll be hearing a lot of “Prinny Dude”, “Haa” and “Here I Come”. If you’ve never heard Disgaea in the past then the loss of voices might not be a huge issue. Truthfully some players are aggressive towards the English VO work and prefer to turn on the Japanese language track, so for them, no English tracks are better than having it. The background soundtrack is a great asset to Disgaea and help give the game a more legendary feeling. The quality has been simplified a little bit on the DS, however like the vocals; only pervious Disgaea gamers will notice the loss of quality.
Disgaea is one of the most original and fun tactical role-playing games ever released; and now Nintendo DS owners get a chance to experience the joy of Disgaea that made it a cult hit. If you haven’t played Disgaea before and you feel even remotely interested by this review, then you need to pick this game up. If it’s been a while since you’ve jumped into the Netherworld through the PS2 you might want to consider the portable nature of the DS along with all the extra content that has been added to the DS version. Disgaea is time tested, highly addictive and a must buy for gamers who enjoy strategic role-playing games.
Gameplay: 9, Graphics: 8.5, Sound: 7, Innovation: 9, Mojo: 9. Final: 8.5 / 10
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 10.17.08